KEITH Southern can’t wait for next season – and the midfielder reckons he owes Blackpool some extra-special performances because he didn’t play enough last year.
A combination of illness, injury and a suspension meant the Southern’s campaign was more stop than start.
And for a player who loves to be in the thick of the action every week, it was frustrating to say the least.
The worst part – at least on the pitch – was not playing a part in the play-off final at Wembley.
Southern played the full 90 minutes in the 2007 and 2010 play-off triumphs but suffered heartache this time as an unused substitute.
He lost his place after serving a three-match ban for a red card against Barnsley on Easter Monday which manager Ian Holloway described as “unbelievably harsh”.
It resulted in a recall for Barry Ferguson, who formed a midfield partnership with Angel Martinez that Holloway stuck with for all three play-off matches.
But Southern isn’t bitter. Reflecting on the strangest of seasons, which included a lengthy spell on the sidelines as he was treated for testicular cancer, the club’s longest-serving player said: “It has been a pretty odd year by anyone’s standards.
“I thought I started really well, then November came and I had what I had – an illness you just don’t expect.
“I got fit from that and then first game back, against Sheffield Wednesday in the FA Cup in January, I got a five-inch gash in my shin.
“It was horrible. You could see the bone and tendons and it needed eight stitches, so I missed three weeks to a month with that.
“Then I got back in the side again and we picked up some great results, beating Southampton 3-0 and Watford away 2-0.
“I thought I was back in the groove and then I got sent off.
Maybe I got sent off stupidly, maybe it was unfortunately, but that was more or less my season done. I kind of knew then. It was hard to take but what can you do?
“I never had any gripe with the manager about not getting back in.
“The only slight gripe I had with him was before that, when he left me out for the Peterborough and Reading games when I had just got back in the side and was playing well.
“But he told me the reason why. He said he was protecting me and I took that on board.
“But I had no gripe whatsoever when I didn’t get back in the side for the play-off games because Martinez and Ferguson, and the other lads who had been playing, fully deserved to keep their places.
“We beat Leeds and Burnley towards the end of the season, so there was no argument from me whatsoever.
“I suppose there was a little disappointment at not getting on at Wembley but I was more disappointed for the lads than myself because I thought we fully deserved to win the game.”
It means Southern, who has been granted a testimonial match against former club Everton to mark ten years’ service at Bloomfield Road, can’t wait to get going again.
“We will come back strongly next season, me especially,” he added.
“I will keep myself as fit as possible because I feel as though I didn’t offer as much last season as I would have liked because of the obvious.
“So I feel I want to make up for that. I will look to come back for pre-season training raring to go and I am already looking forward to kicking a ball again, especially in my testimonial.”